DES MOINES — The 2014 race for Iowa governor is slowly picking up steam.
Gov. Terry Branstad, who has yet to officially declare his plans, has a campaign team busy recruiting volunteers and raising money for the Republican. Democratic hopeful Tyler Olson, a state representative from Cedar Rapids, has hired a campaign manager and is touring the state, talking to voters. And State Sen. Jack Hatch, a Des Moines Democrat, is expected to launch his campaign today.
It's a long time until the primary and general elections next year. Voters will likely see a little more activity from the candidates in the coming months, though most experts caution it could be a long time before campaign leaders emerge.
“They haven't begun to campaign,” said J. Ann Selzer, whose Selzer & Co. conducts the polling for the Des Moines Register. She later added: “I wouldn't recommend even polling on them yet.”
Looking at the race today, one thing is clear: Branstad, 66, is undoubtedly the big dog. The governor, who is serving his fifth nonconsecutive term, is widely expected to seek a sixth term in office. He enjoys strong approval ratings and is coming off a legislative session where legislators passed commercial property tax cuts, made education policy changes and expanded low-income health care.
Branstad's record and the power of incumbency combine to make him hard to beat, said Republican political consultant David Kochel, who has worked on several Branstad campaigns.
“At a time when people are frustrated with politics and the inability to accomplish things, here's a governor who can bring people together and work to move the state forward. The performance is there and the results are there,” Kochel said.
That said, Branstad is coming off a summer in which he got negative press for an incident in which his official vehicle was found to be speeding and the investigator who reported the incident was fired.
Hatch, 63, seized on the incident in August, briefly running a television ad dubbed “Smokey and the Branstad” that argued that the governor thought he was above the law. The early use of television advertising suggests Hatch is prepared to strike an aggressive tone in the campaign.
Another issue for Branstad is whether Iowans think he has outstayed his welcome. In a July poll from Quinnipiac University, 46 percent of voters said he did not deserve re-election, compared with 43 percent who said he did.
Olson, 37, has sought to portray himself as the fresh face in the campaign, arguing that Iowans want something new.
“There's clearly an appetite to move into the next 30 years and bring a fresh perspective to issues like economic development, education and health care,” Olson said.
Compared with past challengers to Branstad, neither Hatch nor Olson has a strong statewide presence.
Olson and Hatch, who will compete in the June primary election, must both work to boost their name recognition, said Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan.
“They're going to have to get out there and introduce themselves to Iowa. Iowans as a general principle don't know them,” Brennan said. “You're going against the 'governor for life,' who has great name recognition.”
Former state lawmaker Bob Krause is also exploring a Democratic run for governor and is attending events around the state.
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